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Intellectual Property Resources


The Los Angeles Public Library is a member of the Patent and Trademark Resource Center Program and assists the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in disseminating patent and trademark information to the public.

In the Science, Technology, and Patents Department of Central Library we offer computerized searching of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Library users perform their own searches. Computers are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Ask library staff for instructions on use. Use of intellectual property databases is free, but printing is $.25 per page. We also have collections in print and microfilm. During regular library hours, we provide some assistance by telephone at 213-228-7220.


What is a Patent?

  • A U.S. patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor.
  • A patent grants the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States, for a limited time, in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted (or 18 months after filing).
  • Also visit the USPTO’s page, General Information Concerning Patents.

What Can Be Patented?

Utility Patents (Term: 20 years from filing date)

  • Machine, Article of Manufacture, Process, Composition of Matter, Business methods (since mid-90’s court decision)
  • Any new, useful improvement of the above

Design Patents (Term: 14 years from the date the patent is granted)

  • Granted for a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • The appearance is protected.

Plant Patents (Term: 20 years from filing date)

  • Granted for a new, asexually reproduced plant

What Cannot Be Patented?

  • Inventions which are not new (lack novelty)
  • Inventions which were “made public” more than one year prior to patent application filing date
  • Inventions which are obvious variations of known technology (obvious to one familiar with the technology)

Patent Searching

Before applying for a patent it is advisable to perform what is known as a prior art search. This means that you need to check previously issued patents to see if your invention might already have been patented. 

For utility patents, use the USPTO’s seven-step strategy for searching U.S. patents to locate and evaluate relevant prior art (earlier patents and published patent applications). View this useful tutorial: How to Conduct a Preliminary U.S. Patent Search: A Step by Step Strategy 

For design patents, use these tools:

Other patent searching tutorials:

Our library staff is happy to show you how to do your own self-directed patent search, however we cannot

  • do patent searches for you
  • suggest words or classes to search
  • give our opinion on whether or not an invention would be patentable
  • interpret USPTO rules and procedures
  • fill out forms on your behalf
  • offer legal advice or answer questions of a legal nature

For legal advice, please contact a registered patent attorney or agent. More specialized questions should be directed to the USPTO customer support centers (toll-free 800-786-9199).

A comprehensive patent search would also include foreign patents and non-patent literature (newspapers, magazines, books, journals, dissertations, conference proceedings, government publications, and websites). Keep in mind that Los Angeles Public Library does not provide access to all prior art resources that are available to patent examiners.

Library users at Central Library can perform more complex searches using the online search tools, PubWest (Public Web-Based Examiner Search Tool) or PubEast (Public Examiner's Automated Search Tool). 

Frequently used USPTO links

Other free full image U.S. patent web sites

Foreign patent searching

More Patent Information

  • For guidance in writing a patent application, check out the book Patent It Yourself from Nolo Press.
  • You can access the book Patent It Yourself and other titles from Nolo Press through the Los Angeles Law Library. Visit LA Law Library's Research Database and choose the EBSCO Legal Information Research Center. Input the suggested state abbreviation and password to access the patent, copyright, and trademark books.
  • Online videos from the University of Michigan cover a variety of intellectual property concepts and topics.
  • USPTO Pro Bono Website Find free legal help
  • California Inventors Assistance Program For low income inventors, get matched with attorney offering pro bono help
  • Inventors Forum Local inventors group

Even More

Trade Secrets

An inventor is not required to obtain a patent.  The inventor may decide that the benefits of keeping the invention secret outweigh the benefits of a patent.

See the World Intellectual Property Organization’s page on the advantages and disadvantages of trade secrets.


What is a trademark?

  • Any Word, Name, Symbol, Sound, Color, Design (or any combination thereof) used to identify and distinguish goods or services and to indicate their source.
  • A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.
  • Trademark registrations can be owned indefinitely. However, proper post-registration maintenance. Documents must be timely and accurately filed.
  • Trademark Basics: Where to Start
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Trademarks

Trademark Searching

Conduct a trademark search to determine whether a conflict exists with registered federal marks or pending applied-for marks

Steps to Conducting a Trademark Search

If there is a registered U.S. trademark or prior-filed application for a mark that is not spelled exactly like your mark but is similar in sound, appearance, meaning or commercial impression, and used in connection with related goods and/or services, then the trademark will be refused registration. It is likely that consumers would be confused by similar trademarks for the same or related goods and/or services.

See the USPTO’s page on the most frequently cited trademark registration refusals

The most common reason for refusal of a trademark registration is likelihood of confusion with other marks. Additionally, a trademark may also be refused if it lacks distinctiveness. In other words, it may be refused if the trademark is

  • Merely descriptive for the goods/services
  • A geographic term
  • A surname
  • Ornamental as applied to the goods

Useful links in Trademark Searching

Trademark Application Process

Trademark Protection Options Outside of the United States

  • File a trademark internationally under the Madrid Protocol through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Also see the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) page on the Madrid system for the international registration of marks, which functions under two international treaties.  For international marks currently in force and recorded under the Madrid System, search the Global Brand Database.
  • Community Trademark (CTM) registrations File a trademark valid in the European Union countries.
  • You can also file for separate trademark registrations with each country.

State Trademarks

If you are not conducting and do not plan to conduct interstate commerce, you may consider applying for a state trademark through the California Secretary of State’s office rather than a federal trademark.

Common Law Trademarks

Even if a trademark is not registered federally, the owner may have common law rights resulting from the use of it. The owners of unregistered trademarks may indicate their claim to common law rights to the trademark by using "TM" with it.

Read more about Common Law Trademarks from San Francisco Public Library.

Common law marks may be found in

  • Telephone, business and manufacturing directories
  • Print and on-line catalogs
  • Trade journals and magazines
  • Web search engines and portals
  • Newspapers, press releases, and new product announcements


What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section "What Works Are Protected."Learn more

Registering a work

No publication, registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a “copy or a phonorecord for the first time.” However, registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.

How to find out if a work has been copyrighted

  • You can search the database of U.S.Copyrights that have been registered or renewed since 1978 by searching the Copyright Office Catalog. This database does not contain the text of any copyrighted material, nor does it have the address of any copyright holder. You can use it to verify the registration date of copyright.
  • For pre-1978 registrations, the library has a paper collection of the Catalog of Copyright Entries from 1871 forward in the Science, Technology, and Patents Department. Many of these volumes have been digitized and are online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library and Google Books. Another useful pathfinder is offered from the University of Pennsylvania’s digital planner, John Mark Ockerbloom. Also, see his page about copyright renewals.
  • A researcher can arrange for the U.S. Copyright Office to conduct a search of the copyright records for $200.00 per hour by submitting a search estimate form. (Fees subject to change)
  • Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States – a useful guide from Cornell University Library

Using a copyrighted work

Other Patent and Trademark Resource Centers

The Los Angeles Public Library is one of over eighty U.S. Patent and Trademark Resource Centers (formerly Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries) located throughout the United States. These libraries assist the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in disseminating patent and trademark information. Other Patent Resource Centers in California are: